To really do a visit to Hampton Court Palace justice I think it is worth a few minutes to learn about some of its past inhabitants, especially the most famous (infamous?) one of all- King Henry VIII.
He started off by marrying his brother’s wife,Catherine of Aragon, but when the marriage failed to produce an heir (and he fell for his mistress) he decided the marriage should be annulled. Unfortunately for King Henry, the Pope wouldn’t cooperate and grant the annulment so what does a king do in a situation like that? Why he defies the Catholic Church, pronounces himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England, and then orders the execution of anyone that dares to oppose this of course!
When not executing people, including his loyal chancellor Sir Thomas Moore, Henry did find some time for productive pursuits. He developed the professional navy, founded the Royal Docklands at Woolwich, established the Palace of Whitehall and a residence at St. James’ Palace. He didn’t actually build Hampton Court (that was done by Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey) but he liked it so much he seized it in 1528. What a friend eh?
Since Henry VIII’s days the palace has seen much history including his own daughter, Elizabeth I, imprisoned in a tower by her jealous and fearful older sister Mary I, then Shakespeare gave his first performance in 1604 to James I, and Oliver Cromwell all forgot about his puritanical principles to live the life of luxury within its walls.
The vast size of Hampton Court can be quite daunting so a guided tour is a good idea, especially if you really want to dig in to learn about its history and the lives of its well known inhabitants. Even without the tour though the palace was great to visit, especially when you get to “meet” some of the people that once graced its great halls- like THE King Henry VIII himself. Just a little word of warning though- if you are a true enthusiast of this historical period coming face-to-face with the King might just leave you a little speechless and starstruck like it did for my friend. For me that might just have been the best part of the visit to see her SO happy “meeting” a historical figure that she is very interested in because the man that played Henry is every bit what you would imagine him to be from anything you’ve read or seen about him. It really was almost like meeting the King himself.
- The Great Hall with its beautiful stained glass, hammer-beam ceiling, and tapestries.
- The Haunted Gallery where the ghost of Catherine Howard, who was executed for adultery, is said to be heard shrieking.
- The King’s Apartment that was added in 1689 by Wren with its splendid mural of Alexander the Great.
- The Tudor kitchens capable of keeping 600(!) courtiers well fed.
- The spectacular gardens that include a rare Tudor tennis court, views of the Thames, and a maze to drive you mad.
- Talking to the staff dressed in period costumes and fully entrenched in their character. They are awesome!
Plan Your Visit
- There are lots of options for tickets including tickets for the Maze and Gardens only, or including the Palace and different prices depending on the season. It is best to visit their website for the latest information. You can also save a little off the admission prices if you purchase the tickets in advance online and they are good for 7 days from the date you select to purchase them for (just in case you can’t make it on the day you originally planned to)
- Opening hours are 1000-1800 daily, with last admission at 1700 (March 26-October 29) and from 1000-1630, with last admission at 1530 (from October 30-March 25) They are closed on December 24-26. The palace is open on January 1.
- Getting there is half the fun! For the quick option trains run from Waterloo Station every 30 minutes and the trip is 35 minutes long. But for a more scenic journey riverboats run from the Westminster Pier but can take up to 4 hours to get to Hampton Court Palace. But what a day that would be- a riverboat cruise and then spend and afternoon in a palace! For more options and maps click here.
Make it a Day
In the Area
- Visit Richmond Park which is home to herds of Red and Fallow deer, Pembroke Lodge, and where you can stand atop King Henry’s Mound for a view all the way to St. Paul’s Cathedral
- The UNESCO World Heritage site of Kew Gardens where you can wander through countless species of trees and flowers in the Arboretum, view 800 paintings from 19th century artists in the Marianne North Gallery, tour the Royal Kew Palace, and visit a Japanese Garden.
Other Royal Residences in London
- The Tower of London is a must-see. Arguably the most famous castle in the world, it is a symbol not just of London but also of a 1000 years of English history. Join the first Yeoman Warder’s Tour after you arrive and prepare to be entertained as you learn about the bloody history in the Tower. Then check out the Crown Jewels (and over-the-top dishes like the Grand Punch Bowl) and the White Tower that is multiple floors of exhibits and artifacts, including a block and ax used for famous beheadings.
- The official London residence of the UK’s sovereigns since 1837, Buckingham Palace is more of a modern palace and it is absolutely as stunning and elegant inside as you might imagine it to be. Even the admission tickets are elegant! Tours of the State Rooms include the Throne Room, Music Room, White Drawing Room, along with many others. After visiting the inside you can stroll through the gardens and have tea at the Garden Café. Buckingham Palace is only open for a limited time during the summer so you do need to plan this in advance to ensure you’ll be able to get tickets.
This post is part of my London Love series.
For more information on common (and some not so common) sights in London, as well as itineraries to help you plan your time, please visit my growing collection of posts in London Love.